What LIS Students Think About Academic Librarianship

As the instructor of an LIS course on academic librarianship I’m certainly interested in hearing more about LIS students’ interest in taking a course on this topic and about their interest in academic librarianship as a career. At the ACRL Conference I attended a session about attracting LIS students into academic librarianship. One of the presenters, Sue Searing, Library & Information Science Librarian University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, talked about data she gathered in an informal survey of UIUC’s LIS students to find out about their interest in academic librarianship.

When asked to identify three things that would attract them to a career in academic librarianship the students gave the following as their top responses: (1) the people; (2) research and intellectual stimulation; (3) being a part of higher education; (4) disciplinary focus; (5) teaching; (6) access to technology; (7) building collections.

When asked to identify three things that would keep them away from a career in academic librarianship they said: (1) workplace culture; (2) higher education environment; (3) tenure and promotion ; (4) poor job opportunities and pay; (5) inadequate LIS education; (6) technology.

While I would like a more in-depth understanding of some items on these lists (what is it about the workplace culture, for example), this type of information can be valuable in recruiting new people to the profession. The more we know about what gets them excited, and what turns them off, the better a job we can do of targeting our messages about why it’s a great career. And getting new people interested while they are still in LIS school could be pretty effective. I hope that ACRL will consider doing some sort of comparable survey in the future.

But Searing also pointed out a barrier to entrance for many LIS students. To get students involved we need them in ACRL. But that’s the problem. ACRL’s student dues are the highest of any ALA division. To join ACRL as a student, first one must join ALA for $28. Then the student must pay $35 to join ACRL. I’m sure students would get their money’s worth given the publications and other perks one gets from ACRL, but as Sue pointed out to me, with their low incomes, student loans, and uncertain job prospects, $35 is substantial money for a student. At this rate, they are unlikely to join. Getting any ALA division to lower fees is a challenge, but perhaps ACRL will explore ways in which the outreach to LIS students could be more welcoming – and affordable. They are the future of our profession.

Many thanks to Sue Searing for sharing this information with me.

2 thoughts on “What LIS Students Think About Academic Librarianship”

  1. “…getting new people interested…”

    An important first step would be creating jobs for those interested. A recent article in the American Libraries pointed out that a student with a fresh MLS interested in academic librarianship should anticipate it taking 12 month and 100+ applications to land the first job. Of those I graduated with 10 months ago who were interested in academic libraries most have given up the search and taken jobs in public and special/corporate libraries.

    The consensus among the half-dozen fresh MLS grads I am in contact with is that there is a shortage of jobs in academic librarianship and many have made efforts to advise friends still in MLS studies to make sure they prepare (through course work and internships) for the very real possibility working in a public library and of not finding a job in an academic one.

  2. I agree with you, recentlygraduated, about job creation. It took me 1 1/2 years to land an academic library job out of school (and that was across the country in a place I did not want to live) and I am looking at moving on with little success so far. It seems to be of questionable ethics to promote something that does not exist.

    And if the profession is interested in “recruiting new people” doesn’t that mean you should reach out to students? There was no employment information at my school and the large library at my school had no interest in taking me on for an internship (i.e., free labor). Why even discuss ACRL dues–I never heard about in library school. Might you start there?

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